Career advice is not available for many South Africans attending high school. For those with the opportunity to move on to university, this means deciding what to study can be daunting due to the limited support available. Dell Young Leaders alum Tarin shares her story on making the difficult decision to change degrees after her first year of university. Tarin grew up in Durban and graduated from the University of Pretoria in 2019, where she served in leadership roles in student societies focused on social outreach and upliftment. She is currently a junior equity trader at a global investment bank.
What led you to think about changing degrees while in university?
In high school, I thought I wanted to be in the science field, so I didn’t study any commerce subjects like accounting or economics. With veterinary science in university, if you fail a subject you must repeat the entire year. After failing a subject in my first year, I had to decide whether to continue down my planned degree path. I wasn’t sure with my financial aid if I was going to be able to finish the degree. After researching, I switched to a Bachelor of Commerce that would allow me to finish in the same time frame as veterinary science. This was a huge change, and I had no idea what I was walking into.
What did you consider before making this decision?
To make this decision, you must research extensively to figure out what you want to do with your life. It’s so hard at 21 years old to make those decisions, especially when you’ll have family that you’re responsible for when you start working. It was definitely one of the hardest decisions I had to make. I was researching, finding out what I wanted to do when I left university and trying to gain as much experience as possible. Through internships and job shadowing, I was trying to find out what working world I wanted to be in.
A big consideration for me was that I needed to take care of my mum when I started working. I had to ensure I was going into a degree where I could earn a decent salary to pay my rent, buy a car, afford groceries and others essentials – but also pay my mum’s medical aid and support her.
At the end of the day, three things will help set you up for knowing what you want to do: when you’ve done enough research, put your mind to something, and know where you’re going.
What support did you receive along the way?
Some people might not support your decision because they think you have no idea what you’re doing. It may come across that you’re confused, and you don’t know what path you’re taking for the future. That was where I was at that stage. In my household, I didn’t really have anyone I could speak to. My mum didn’t go to university, so when I asked her if should change my degree and go into commerce she couldn’t give me advice because she had no idea what I was going through. She suggested I do some research and speak to people. She just wanted me to be happy and make the decision that would make me happy. My brother – who is a finance graduate – was really smart and finished with all A’s. He didn’t have the same emotional experience I had at university, so he couldn’t understand why I wanted to change degrees. This is not to say he wasn’t supportive, but he couldn’t really put himself in my shoes.
The Dell Young Leaders programme was the only space I could go to for advice. They helped me tremendously. They helped me figure out what I could do with my degree, where I could go, they helped me with tests to identify my strengths. It was tough because I felt I didn’t really have the support I wanted, until I approached the Dell Young Leaders team.
What surprised you the most about changing degrees?
When I did first year of accounting, I had no idea what was going on and that was quite tough! But the most surprising challenge was that after changing degrees I ended up older than everyone in my year. That was difficult because I had to make new friends. The friends you make in study group in the first year carry you through the rest of your degree, and I didn’t have that. I had to start from the beginning which was difficult, but it ensured I had a support group in my new degree and I’m glad I did that. The people around me were going through the same things, and they really helped me. By the end of university, it didn’t feel like I had changed degrees because I loved what I was doing had a job that I was looking forward to.
What advice do you have for upcoming graduates?
Be adaptable. Today in my job, I’m the only female on a team of 30 people for all of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. You’re going to meet so many different people from different cultures and backgrounds. You must be understanding and adapt to working with different people.
Be resilient. There will be things you don’t like doing. Everyone knows at university there’s always this one module you can’t stand, but you persevere through it. It’s the same at work. There will be things you don’t prefer, and things you love doing. Make sure the things you love doing overpower everything else. Build resiliency and persevere.
Given the current economic environment, new university graduates face a steep road ahead.
The Career Insights Series is designed to help graduate job seekers. Dell Young Leaders alumni share insights on their career path, highlight a day in the life at their employer, and provide guidance to students on how to stand out to employers and prepare for the world of work.